Memory Tree, Last Present Day among Onn holiday traditions - Christmas 2018
BY SHAWN LOUGHLIN
It’s been a long journey that’s brought Zoellyn Onn back to Huron County but she knows now that she was always meant to return to her home community.
Onn, the newly-installed Brussels Ward Councillor on Huron East Council, returned to the area when she and her partner Thom Chisholm purchased Schimanski Funeral Home in Brussels.
The funeral home, now renamed Riverside Funeral Home, had always been Onn’s dream and one she was starting to feel was unattainable after years of working as a funeral director in Toronto.
Onn grew up just north of Blyth on a rural property, but when she returned to Huron County in Brussels, she made every effort to integrate into her new community. In addition to purchasing the well-established funeral home, Onn joined the Brussels Lions Club, the Brussels Horticultural Society and the Brussels Agricultural Society. She was also a founding member of the Brussels community choral group, Sing Sing Sing.
Onn and Chisholm have also taken it upon themselves to start a new holiday tradition at the funeral home, which is the introduction of a memory tree. Stocked with ornaments and remembrances from members of the community, the tree honours those who have passed with loving words from their family members, friends and neighbours.
The tradition began last year at the funeral home. Onn and Chisholm welcomed members of the public to the funeral home for the special event, inviting them to make an ornament to honour a loved one and either leave it on the home’s memory tree or take it home for their own tree.
Not only does the practice seek to remember those who have passed away over the years, but it also gathers locals who have lost loved ones together. The holidays, Onn said, can be a hard time for those who have lost people, so a night out with others who have felt loss can mean a lot over Christmas.
Onn has inherited a genuine love of Christmas from her mother Jeanette Harris, who passed away in 2002. Harris did a lot of decorating around the holidays, Onn said, which is a mantle that she has taken up since purchasing the funeral home.
While there was lots of decorating and Christmas spirit around the Onn home over the holidays, Onn said there wasn’t much heat. Living in a house that was constantly under renovation, she said, was pretty cool during a typical Huron County winter, but she remembers having great holidays as a child with her family near Blyth.
Every Christmas the family would make the pilgrimage to the back of the property to find a Christmas tree, taking turns with either the axe or saw and doing their part to cut down the family’s Christmas tree, even if members were young and needed parental assistance.
The Onn family still makes the trip and takes family tree-cutting pictures to this day, though the group that walks out to the back of the property has grown over the years.
They also celebrate a unique tradition that has followed the Onn family for years, Last Present Day, which marks the end of many staple Christmas traditions.
Last Present Day, which, again, the Onn family still celebrates to this day, is held sometime in January every year. The family gets together once again and works together to take down the year’s Christmas tree, giving each other one last small gift to officially mark the close of the holiday season.
Chisholm grew up in a suburb of Toronto and said his childhood Christmases were very Leave it to Beaver in nature, always spending the holidays with his grandparents.
Everything changed, however, when his grandparents passed away and he said family celebrations all seemed to go their separate ways after that.
When Onn and Chisholm lived together in Toronto, holidays were rather subdued in the city, although they did make the trip back to Huron County every year to pitch in and help cut down the Onn family Christmas tree.
The holidays have taken on a new significance since the couple moved to Brussels. Onn said there is so much to do in the village over the holidays that it keeps them very busy and makes the village very special during Christmas.